THE death of Col Manpreet Singh, Maj Ashish Dhonchak and DSP Humayun Bhat in a gunfight with terrorists in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir is a great loss to the nation. Both Col Manpreet and Maj Dhonchak were recipients of the Sena Medal; the former was the commanding officer of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, the Army’s counter-terrorist unit. It was ostensibly an intelligence-based operation that went horribly wrong. The intel input claimed that the terrorists had a hideout in a forest, but the joint team of the security forces was ambushed by the assailants when it approached the spot. Col Manpreet and the others literally walked into a death trap. Even as the reliability of the input has come under a cloud, it is evident that there were lapses in the implementation of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for counter-terror operations.
It was in 2020 that the Army had revised its SOPs for such operations in J&K, shifting the focus on ensuring surrender during encounters. While this confidence-building measure has been helpful in saving the lives of several youths, it has made the task tougher for Army personnel, who are expected to play the waiting game for a longer period. In any case, a thorough verification of intelligence inputs is a must to spot fatal red herrings and false trails. Round-the-clock surveillance of informers is needed to weed out those who are in league with terrorists.
The Anantnag attack comes days after the Central Government told the Supreme Court that it was ready to conduct elections in J&K. An occasional setback should not deter the Centre from going ahead with the much-delayed electoral process. At the same time, there is a need to remove deficiencies in the intel system and firm up the SOPs so that soldiers and cops don’t become sitting ducks for Pakistan-trained terrorists.
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